by Nathan Eden
By its very definition, progressive music is responsible for setting trends. But a musician need only dig out their faded Obama campaign t-shirt to be reminded of how quickly something perceived as game-changing can come to be taken for granted. As one of progressive music’s most watched exponents, Gojira have added to their sound across the breadth of six studio albums, however, at least one half of the brothers Duplantier reckons this is simply natural, as opposed to being by design. Articulate and heavily accented, Mario tells me the change cannot be pinpointed more specifically than the constant turning of Mother Earth.
Describing Magma’s concise nature when compared to their back catalogue, drummer, composer, and talented painter, Mario Duplantier, offers a simple explanation. “I don’t know if it was a conscious decision,” he begins. “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s just what we wanted to hear. It’s just four guys in a room making music”. (Gojira is Mario, his brother Joe Duplantier who is responsible for vocals and guitar, lead guitarist Christian Andreu, and Jean-Michel Labadie on bass).
That “four guys in a room” thing is a humble account of what transpires during a Gojira recording. Many fans will tell you what they do is magic. Even a few days prior to the release of Magma, an album as anticipated as any in HEAVY music over the last few years, Gojira are continuously referred to as “the most important band in metal,” whatever that actually means.
I wonder what that means to four guys from Bayonne, in the south of France. “It’s very amazing to have that respect from the media,” admits Duplantier. “Of course, we think it’s great and when we hear it, we’re like, “f*ck yeah” in one way, but also, it’s important that we distance ourselves from it.
“We’re hard workers. It’s important that we focus on being our best, and making sure we’re tight on stage,” he says. In reference to said stage, Mario explains that his band have debuted only two tracks so far, in Silvera and Stranded, as the pair share a “groove” and are “fun to play, but not so challenging compared to songs from the rest of the album.
“The direction of the new music was a bit of a challenge for us,” the drummer begins in offering a refreshingly open and honest insight in to the song writing and sculpting of Magma, his band’s newest edition.
“It’s like one song over one album, for me,” he continues. “We’ve strayed from our death metal roots a bit because we’re not twenty anymore. Joe is almost forty now, and he doesn’t want to keep screaming all day long. Can you imagine doing that every day for all this time?”
I can’t. And yet, there’s no shortage of aggressive vocals to be found among the previously unseen twists and beautiful turns of the new album. Some tracks, like the previously mentioned pair of Stranded and Silvera, lean on more traditional Gojira and deeply hint at the band’s roots. Whereas other songs, such as opener, The Shooting Star, and the title track, feature almost entirely clean vocals.
“Maybe you don’t have the same rage as you used to,” Mario says in reference to his brother, Joe’s voice. “He told me; ‘I want to sing’. I said, ‘Do it! Just don’t make it cheesy.’” The vocalist then promised his little brother that there would be no cheese. For the record, Magma contains about as much cheese as a strict vegan’s fridge.
All this isn’t to suggest Magma loses out on what is generally considered ‘heavy’. It’s as weighty as their moniker’s namesake, only they’ve transformed. An ‘expansion’ would better describe it. An expansion that’s somehow squeezed in to ten tracks, more straight-to-the-point than Gojira fans might have become accustomed to. If that sounds like a paradox, remember we’re talking about a band adept at taking seemingly contradictory ideas and making them work as though it was easy. Perhaps that’s what ‘the most important band in metal’ means.
By now, it’s no secret that the new album was recorded, produced and mixed by the brothers themselves, as the sound track to personal loss. “When we composed the songs, my mother was sick,” he begins. “She was still alive and I could still talk to her and enjoy composing music. But around the start of recording, that’s when our lives became a little catastrophic.
“Our mother passed away and Joe wasn’t done with the lyrics at that time. Songs like Shooting Star and Magma were directly affected,” Mario says, referencing the two tracks previously mentioned as those entirely sung rather than screamed. “But there was energy and joy in what we created. We weren’t sad all day, every day.”
It wasn’t just the death of their mother that had an influence on the record. Mario insists that matters of geography and culture played a starring role. A move to New York City offered the boys a chance to tap in to their American roots, while perhaps somewhat ironically, ditching the idea of bringing an American producer on board.
“We wanted to do everything ourselves so we could take our time. Joe took two months with the vocals, adding charm again and again.
“We feel like we are producers,” Mario explained. “We could have brought in an American producer like we have in the past, but I wanted the opportunity to take my time, so I could, say, get that snare sound perfect. Exactly how I wanted it to sound, you know?
“Composition was the big difference. Our mother comes from America. So Joe and I are French Americans, and we wanted to get a feel for that while recording. We spent one year in New York, in our own little bubble. The impact was huge.”
Despite this excursion, Gojira have not lost sight of who they are, and they’re about to share a little bit more of that with their fans. Mario tells me that the upcoming video for the album’s most melancholic track, Low Lands, will feature the Duplantier house practice room, where the band began as Godzilla back in 1996. He says the new video will offer fans a bit of a “freak out” and will be first seen on the 22 June 2016.
Aside from his talents behind the kit where he is known as much for his precision, groove and jazz-like breaks as for blasting double-bass, Mario Duplantier has gone some way to establishing himself as an artist whose paintings and drawings garner much admiration. So who better to ask about the role of artwork in modern music, as the vinyl package is slowly strangled by the digital devil. Does this result in a divorce in the marriage between music and visual art?
Mario’s take is both typically Earth conscious, and well-considered in incorporating artistic themes with life in the broader sense. “We need to respect the fact that the Earth will disappear in a few thousand years-time. Everything changes. Life changes. We just have to change with it, that’s all.”
“I’m a bit nostalgic,” he admits. “I’m thirty-five, so when I started buying records, and tapes, and CDs, there was no internet. But that’s in the past and an artist needs to find new ways of being creative. I have my own gallery for some of that, and Instagram is actually a great way of getting our creativity out there.
“Bands just need to be creative,” he reiterates.
Interestingly, in the same context as he mentions age once again, Mario also speaks passionately about the importance of remaining creative. If there is evidence buried in this conversation that Magma is certainly not a complacent resting spot, no matter how many laurel wreaths adorn Gojira’s neck, then this is it.
There’s but one question left to answer when it comes to approaching the band’s latest instalment of metal mastery, and that’s a matter of the message in the music. Gojira might still be considered an ‘extreme’ metal band for the most part, so why are my mates who dug the last Disturbed record, also raving about these Gojira guys? Does their message mean something to people or do they just happen to have a whole bunch of great tunes?
“I’d like to think that people get that our music is about the ecology of the soul, and not just about looking after the planet,” Duplantier offers in his explanation that those two things are not separate.
“There’s a line from Silvera that goes; ‘When you change yourself, you change the world’,” he says. “I think Magma is more poetic than our other albums,” Mario concludes. “It’s more complete. Joe had another approach with his lyrics; that the world will be better.”
Magma is released today via Roadrunner Records in Australia.